Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association

The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (simplified Chinese: 中国天主教爱国会; traditional Chinese: 中國天主教愛國會; pinyin: Zhōngguó Tiānzhǔjiào Àiguó Huì), abbreviated CPA, CPCA or CCPA, is an organization established in 1957 by the People's Republic of China's Religious Affairs Bureau to supervise mainland China's Catholics.[1] In his encyclical Ad Apostolorum principis of 29 July 1958, Pope Pius XII deplored the attitude and activities of the Association and declared the bishops who participated in consecrating new bishops selected by the Association to be excommunicated. Pope Benedict XVI referred to the agents of the Association as people who, though not ordained priests and sometimes not baptized, "control and take decisions concerning important ecclesial questions, including the appointment of bishops."[2] The organization is overseen by the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China following the State Administration for Religious Affairs' absorption into the United Front Work Department in 2018.[3]

Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association
FounderState Administration for Religious Affairs
Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association
Traditional Chinese中國天主教愛國會
Simplified Chinese中国天主教爱国会

It is the only organizational body of Catholics in China officially recognized by the government of the People's Republic of China, but is not recognized by the Vatican.[4] Nonetheless, the Holy See distinguishes between the Church in China and the CPCA as such, and since the 1980s has recognized nearly all CPCA-appointed bishops as legitimate and in full communion with the Catholic Church, albeit on an individual basis.[5] The Church continues to seek a permanent settlement of the question through negotiations with the political authorities of the People's Republic.[6]

The CPCA does not oversee Catholics in Macau and Hong Kong, whose bishops retain ties to the Catholic Church in Rome.

CPCA and the Beijing governmentEdit

Officially, religious organizations in mainland China today must be government-recognized and approved, though many unofficial unregistered organizations do exist. The Government of China wants no organization in mainland China owing allegiance to "foreign influence", in this case, the Pope in Rome. Critics of the CPCA argue that it was created precisely to establish state control over Catholicism in mainland China.

The government rejects exercise of any authority by organs of the Catholic Church outside China after 1949, the year communists gained power over all of mainland China. CPCA, which was founded eight years later, thus does not recognize the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Pope Pius XII in 1950, canonizations from 1949 onward (e.g. the canonization of Pope Pius X), Vatican declarations on even well-established devotional piety (e.g. on the Sacred Heart of Jesus or on Mary as Queen), and the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). In practice, however, the Catholic Church in China uses Chinese translations of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church (revised in 1997) and of the 1970 Roman Missal. These had at first to be imported from Taiwan and Hong Kong, but have been printed locally for some years.[7]

Due to CPCA pressure, Mass continued for some years after Pope Paul VI's 1969 revision of the Roman Missal to be celebrated in mainland China in the Tridentine Mass form, and for lack of the revised text in Latin or Chinese, even priests who refused any connection with the CPCA kept the older form. As the effects of the Cultural Revolution faded in the 1980s, the Mass of Paul VI began to be used, and at the beginning of the next decade the CPCA officially permitted the publication even locally of texts, originally prepared in Taiwan, that brought the Mass liturgy into line with that in use in other countries. Since the Canon of the Mass is now said aloud, observers have been able to check that the Pope is prayed for by name (a traditional test of unity and loyalty) even by those priests who, at least externally, accept directions from the CPCA, leading to the conclusion that "there is only one Catholic Church in China, whether state-recognized or so-called underground, they have the same faith, and the same doctrine."[8]

The policy of the PRC government, as was that of communist governments in other countries, has been to reserve to the state the regulation of all social activities. Thus the CPCA prevents the Catholic bishops in China from speaking out publicly even against laws that gravely contravene official Catholic moral teaching, such as those allowing abortion and artificial contraception.

CPCA and the Catholic ChurchEdit

The Vatican has never declared the Chinese Catholics attending CPCA-sponsored church services to be schismatic,[5] though organizations outside of China have urged this.[9] Chinese Catholics who accept CPCA directives on the governance of the Church are not for that reason heretical, though it can perhaps be maintained that they are schismatic.[10] In, for instance, inviting bishops appointed under CPCA rules to attend as Catholics in full communion with Rome an assembly of the Synod of Bishops,[11] the Holy See indicated that it does not consider that the Church in mainland China (as distinct from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association) approves of abortion and artificial contraception. Furthermore, "[t]he Holy See has continued to consider the episcopal ordinations in China fully valid."[5] The clergy whom they ordain therefore conserve valid Holy Orders, and the other sacraments that require a priest as minister (in particular the Eucharist) are also considered valid.[5] As these facts demonstrate, the CPCA and the "underground" Catholic Church in China have significant overlap.[12]

The bishops who conferred episcopal ordination on candidates chosen in the manner laid down by the CPCA, without a mandate from the Holy See, and those who accepted such ordination, participated in a schismatic act and were thereby automatically excommunicated.[13] However, not all of them are considered to be still in schism since, beginning in the early 1980s, nearly all[14][15] "took advantage of the renewed contacts with missionaries and foreign priests to send letters to Rome in which they declared their full communion with the Pope and the desire to be recognized as legitimate bishops. So ... the bishops subjected to the political control of the Patriotic Association tried the path of canonical sanatio to ... affirm their communion with the Pope, kept hidden because of external conditions, but never renounced in their hearts."[16] Those few Chinese bishops who have not done so remain in formal schism.[n 1]

For a time, some bishops who refused to accept CPCA control consecrated other bishops, so that there were cases of two parallel hierarchies among Catholics in China,[n 2] the one in schism partly,[n 3] the other in full communion with Pope Pius XII and his successors. The first to take this action was the Bishop of Baoding, Joseph Fan Xueyan, who in 1981 consecrated three bishops without any mandate from the Holy See, which, however, gave approval for his action at the end of the same year.[16] This led to at least the perception, perhaps even the reality, of two parallel Roman Catholic Churches in China, often referred to as the "official" Church and the "underground" one.[n 4]

It was precisely in that period that bishops ordained according to CPCA rules began to request and obtain recognition from the Holy See. On 26 September 1993 the Holy See decided that no more episcopal ordinations of the kind administered by Bishop Fan without previous authorization by the Holy See would be allowed. It was also decided that, given the greater ease of communication then existing, bishops selected by CPCA procedures were likewise to request and receive the prior approval of the Holy See before ordination, and must seek to have as consecrants legitimate bishops, since "the active participation of illegitimate bishops cannot but make more difficult the acceptance of a subsequent request for regularization." They were also to make public, when they deemed it possible and opportune, the assent of the Holy See to their ordination.[16] Some have actually made this public on the occasion of their ordination as bishops.

In September 1992, the CPCA-sponsored Conference of Chinese Catholic Representatives, in which the bishops were a minority, approved new statutes of the Bishops' College, which seemed to subject the college to the Conference and to reiterate the CPCA rules for the election of bishops and the replacement, in the rite of episcopal ordination, of the papal mandate with the consent of the college. Probably because of this, the September 1993 directives also exhorted the bishops to defend with greater courage "the rights of the Church and communion with the Roman Pontiff." And, in fact, the bishops claimed more strongly at the next Assembly of the Catholic Representatives, held in January 1998, leadership in church matters.

The ordinations of Peter Feng Xinmao in 2004 as coadjutor of Hengsui, Joseph Xing Wenzhi as auxiliary of Shanghai on 28 June 2005[17] and Anthony Dang Ming Yan as coadjutor of Xian on 26 July of the same year were all papal appointments, which were followed by the government-imposed procedures of the appointee's election by representatives of the diocese and consequent approval by the Chinese government itself. The Holy See refrained from making any statement, and no papal document of appointment was read at the ordination rites. However, it was noted that at least Bishop Xing swore to be "faithful to the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church, with Peter as its head."

In a further highly significant gesture, Pope Benedict XVI invited three CPCA-appointed bishops, together along with one "underground" bishop, to the October 2005 assembly of the Synod of Bishops as full members, not as "fraternal delegates", the term used for representatives of non-Catholic churches invited to attend. Government permission for them to travel to Rome was withheld.

The Vatican stated that it had given its prior approval for the episcopal ordination of two CPCA-approved bishops in September 2007, and the Rome-based missionary news service AsiaNews, which follows events in China closely, quoted a Chinese source as saying the government was no longer imposing its own candidates as bishops and was now allowing the church more freedom.[18]

Effects on China–Holy See relationsEdit

The existence and activities of the CPCA division of the Government's Religious Affairs Bureau has prevented the Holy See from establishing diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. On the part of the Holy See, a normal condition for establishing diplomatic relations with a country is a satisfactory level of freedom of religion, a condition whose fulfilment in China is subject to debate.[citation needed]

However, the same condition could be seen as not required for appointing a papal representative, resident in Beijing, to continue, after an interruption, the diplomatic relations established with China in the 1930s. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine that the Holy See would agree to this without some loosening of the governmental ban on religious links between Catholics in China and Rome.

At the time of the definitive Communist victory in mainland China, the papal diplomatic representative did not move to Taiwan, the island to which the Nationalist government withdrew. This fact might have made it possible to continue diplomatic relations with the new government as regularly happens when a country's government is changed by election, coup, revolution or overthrow by rebel forces. Instead, the Communist government expelled the papal representative, whose delay in leaving then made him unacceptable to the Taipei government. His successors were accepted, and maintained relations with the government that at that time was still recognized by the United Nations as the government of China. When the United Nations gave recognition instead to the Beijing government, the Holy See decided to appoint no further heads of its diplomatic mission in Taipei, leaving it from then on in the care of a chargé d'affaires.

Due to One-China policy, Beijing has several times declared that, in the case of the Holy See, a break with Taipei is a necessary preliminary condition to establish diplomatic relations.

There have been a number of efforts to reconcile the PRC government with the Vatican. An article in The New York Times estimated that the status of Taiwan is not a major obstacle, and appointment of bishops can be handled with the Vatican picking from a list pre-screened by the government. Most reports, it said, indicate that the main obstacle is the PRC government's fear of being undermined by the Catholic Church, especially since Pope John Paul II was widely seen as having influenced the fall of Communist governments in Poland and other Eastern European countries.

Some observers have described a difference in the phenomena of civil society and state-society relations between China and the Western world. As a result, what Westerners may see as state regulation of social activities, the PRC government often describes as necessary policies to preserve social stability.

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, churches throughout China held special memorial services to commemorate and mourn his passing. Such activities are permitted, though official policy toward the Pope in Rome remain the same. Many Chinese Catholics, often with no awareness of any real rift between the two sides, expressed that they would have liked him to visit China, as he had once indicated was his desire.[19]

The PRC government also expresses its view that the Catholic Church has not sufficiently apologized for alleged abuses by missionaries and clergy which occurred prior to the establishment of the PRC, some of them, it says, substantiated by international scrutiny. It harshly criticized the canonization in 2000 of 120 Chinese and foreign martyrs in China, beatified much earlier, claiming that many of the non-Chinese among the martyrs had perpetrated abuses and crimes against the Chinese people. It also criticized the Vatican for proceeding with this action without securing Chinese input, and put on the Holy See the blame for the non-existence of the diplomatic channels that would have facilitated input. It made a similar accusation of Holy See unilateralism (which some would interpret instead as Beijing's refusal to distinguish between religion and politics) when Pope Benedict XVI invited four bishops from mainland China – three of whom were government-approved – to the October 2005 assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.[20]

Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to Catholics in ChinaEdit

In his letter of 27 May 2007[2] to the Catholics in the People's Republic of China, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged their faithfulness to Christ and the Church, "sometimes at the price of grave sufferings", but also expressed concern at some aspects of ecclesial life in the country, in particular the division caused by "the significant part played by entities that have been imposed as the principal determinants of the life of the Catholic community", so that "persons who are not ordained, and sometimes not even baptized, control and take decisions concerning important ecclesial questions, including the appointment of Bishops, in the name of various State agencies", with a consequent "demeaning of the Petrine and episcopal ministries".

The Pope distinguished three groups among the Catholic bishops in China. He first mentioned those who "have felt themselves constrained to opt for clandestine consecration"; he expressed the Holy See's hope "that these legitimate Pastors may be recognized as such by governmental authorities for civil effects too". The second group is that of those who, "under the pressure of particular circumstances, have consented to receive episcopal ordination without the pontifical mandate, but have subsequently asked to be received into communion with the Successor of Peter and with their other brothers in the episcopate"; in view of the existing confusion on the part of Chinese Catholics, the Pope said: "It is indispensable, for the spiritual good of the diocesan communities concerned, that legitimation, once it has occurred, is brought into the public domain at the earliest opportunity, and that the legitimized Bishops provide unequivocal and increasing signs of full communion with the Successor of Peter." The third group is that of the "very small number ... who have been ordained without the Pontifical mandate and who have not asked for, or have not yet obtained, the necessary legitimation"; these, the Pope said, "are to be considered illegitimate, but validly ordained", and "the faithful, taking this into account, where the Eucharistic celebration and the other sacraments are concerned, must, within the limits of the possible, seek Bishops and priests who are in communion with the Pope: nevertheless, where this cannot be achieved without grave inconvenience, they may, for the sake of their spiritual good, turn also to those who are not in communion with the Pope."

Hardening of government's attitudeEdit

The 20 November 2010 ordination of a bishop against the wishes of the Holy See indicated that the government was taking a more hard-line attitude. Pope Benedict XVI expressed his concern firmly.[21] At the end of June 2011, another bishop was ordained against the wishes of the Holy See, while a priest with Holy See approval was arrested, so preventing his ordination as a bishop.[22] A similar ordination took place on 14 July 2011, causing the Holy See to issue a declaration that the Pope "once again deplores the manner in which the Church in China is being treated and hopes that the present difficulties can be overcome as soon as possible".[23]

Other state-endorsed religious organizationsEdit

CPCA is one of three state-endorsed religious organizations set up in China after 1949. The other two are the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestants, and the Islamic Association of China.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Though the word "schism" does not appear explicitly in Pope Pius XII's condemnation of the action of those bishops (all of whom were recognized bishops of the Catholic Church) who were first involved in the uncanonical consecration of other bishops at the behest of the CPCA, the idea is implicit in the words "by this crime the unity of the Church is being seriously attacked": "No one can lawfully confer episcopal consecration unless he has received the mandate of the Apostolic See. Consequently, if consecration of this kind is being done contrary to all right and law, and by this crime the unity of the Church is being seriously attacked, an excommunication reserved specialissimo modo to the Apostolic See has been established which is automatically incurred by the consecrator and by anyone who has received consecration irresponsibly conferred. ("Ad Apostolorum Principis". pp. 47–48.)
  2. ^ This was true only of a few dioceses: in the last decades of the twentieth century the Holy See's yearbook, Annuario Pontificio, indicated the vast majority of the Chinese dioceses as vacant, since, after the expulsion and later transfer or death of the foreign bishops to whom they had been entrusted, no bishop had been consecrated for them in this way, with or without prior approval by the Holy See.
  3. ^ "The majority of bishops ordained illegitimately in those years in China, never really thought of it as the national 'self-governing' Church cherished by the propaganda of the regime."[17]
  4. ^ "The episcopal ordination of Shanghai (on 28 June 2005) clarifies the real contours of the intricate events of Chinese Christianity in the last fifty years. And gives the lie forever to the misleading theories according to which there were two Churches in China, one faithful to the Pope and the other to the Party."[17]


  1. ^ "The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association celebrates 50 years at a less than ideal moment". AsiaNews. 25 July 2007. Archived from the original on 14 May 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2008.
  2. ^ a b "Letter to the Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People's Republic of China". 27 May 2007. Archived from the original on 9 March 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  3. ^ Joske, Alex (May 9, 2019). "Reorganizing the United Front Work Department: New Structures for a New Era of Diaspora and Religious Affairs Work". Jamestown Foundation. Archived from the original on November 19, 2019. Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  4. ^ "Vatican blasts 'illicit' ordination in China". Al Jazeera. 10 July 2012. Archived from the original on 1 August 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d "Elected "democratically". Valid nevertheless". 30Days. May 2004. Archived from the original on 2007-03-03. Retrieved 2006-06-07.
  6. ^ "Letter to the Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People's Republic of China (May 27, 2007) | BENEDICT XVI". Archived from the original on 2017-07-28. Retrieved 2017-08-01.
  7. ^ "Understanding the Roman Catholic Church in China" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2014.
  8. ^ "China: Mixed Signals On Catholic Appointments Hint At Internal Policy Differences". Radio Free Europe. 17 May 2006. Archived from the original on 12 April 2007. Retrieved 18 April 2007.
  9. ^ "An open letter to Vatican". Cardinal Kung Foundation. 28 March 2000. Archived from the original on 12 March 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  10. ^ "The Papal Kiss". The Real News of the Month. January 2003. Archived from the original on 2007-02-16. Retrieved 2007-04-19. This pseudo-Catholic body expressly disavows loyalty to Rome and supports the state's policy of forcing women to undergo abortions.
  11. ^ "Pope names four mainland Chinese bishops to October synod". Catholic News Service. 8 September 2005. Archived from the original on 25 February 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  12. ^ "China". Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Archived from the original on 16 March 2013. See drop-down essay on "An Era of Opening"
  13. ^ "Code of Canon Law, canon 1382". Archived from the original on 2009-05-04. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
  14. ^ "Catholic Church in China: 'Two faces' expressing one faith". The Catholic Review. Catholic News Service. 1 May 2007. Archived from the original on 3 December 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2016. Nearly all the bishops who have joined the patriotic association have reconciled with the Vatican.
  15. ^ "Jiangsu: A new bishop to be ordained without Holy See approval". Asia News. 27 November 2006. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 19 April 2007.
  16. ^ a b c "The long road and 'accidents along the way'". 30 Days. January 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-04-06.
  17. ^ a b c "There's something new in Shanghai too". 30Days. August–September 2005. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2005-10-07.
  18. ^ "New Beijing bishop approved by Vatican". Catholic News Service. 24 September 2007. Archived from the original on 1 March 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  19. ^ "Condolences for the Pope and new arrests of bishops and priests in Peking". AsiaNews. 4 April 2005. Archived from the original on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  20. ^ "Afraid of the pope, China closes its doors". AsiaNews. 5 April 2005. Archived from the original on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  21. ^ "Pope expresses deep regret over Chinese ordination". Zenit News Agency. 24 November 2010. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  22. ^ "Chinese bishop ordained without papal mandate". Zenit News Agency. 1 July 2011. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  23. ^ "Vatican statement on china ordination". Zenit News Agency. 17 July 2011.

External linksEdit